It doesn't get any easier from here on in. The Butler Bulldogs, a team that has shown loads of promise in its inaugural campaign under new coach Brandon Miller, struggled to hang onto another late lead. This time it cost the Bulldogs the game as they fell to the DePaul Blue Demonsat Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Leading 73-62 with just under four minutes remaining, Butler failed to score another point while giving up three straight three pointers to the Blue Demons. A Cleveland Melvinjumper with 20 seconds left in the game forced overtime.
The extra period gave DePaul a chance to blow its own lead. Melvin's dunk put the visitors up 84-78 with half a minute remaining in the extra period. Both teams traded free throws before a Kellen Dunhamthree pulled the Bulldogs within one. Dunham had a chance to tie it, but his miss set the stage for Butler's backup point guard Jackson Aldridge to pull down the offensive board and hit a jumper to keep Butler alive and move to a second OT.
The Bulldogs' luck ran out after that. DePaul ran off five unanswered points in the final minute and walked away from a blustery Indianapolis with their first win in league play.
The home team never regained momentum after blowing their 11 point advantage. Despite Dunham's strong second-half (he scored 28 of his 30 after halftime), Butler was completely unable to create offense when trying to close out the win. Their final four possessions of regulation: offensive foul on Rene Castro, off-balance Dunham three-point miss, Kameron Woods pass off of Dunham's knee, and an off-target Castro attempt in the lane to beat the buzzer. Very little ball movement or attempt to create offense inside the arc.
Butler Breakdown (Player Grades)-
It was an ugly foul-fest for much of the game, but the calls went both ways. As per usual, Alex Barlow (D) was a prime recipient of the referee's whistles. He managed just two points and three assists before fouling out. Only one steal on defense. You could tell that Butler missed his leadership at the end of the game, however. Neither Rene Castro (D) nor Aldridge(C-) were able to create much on the offensive end or keep DePaul from knocking down open threes.
Despite a very cold first half (0-7 for two points), Kellen Dunham (C) bounced back to give Butler most of what it needed in terms of scoring. He just couldn't be the only option for the Bulldogs down the stretch. DePaul did an effective job of denying Dunham on a top of the key pick-and-roll when Butler tried to give its star an open lane to the hoop. His biggest mistake of the night was failing to close out Billy Garrett Jr. when the Blue Demon guard knocked down a corner three near the end of regulation. If Garrett misses that, Butler probably wins the game.
After Khyle Marshall's (C-) dunk put Butler up 73-62, the senior leader failed to attempt a shot from the floor for the rest of the night. He finished with 15 points on a pretty efficient night shooting the ball, but really needed to step up when it counted most. 3-7 from the charity stripe really hurt his team's cause too.
Kameron Woods (B-) was a beast rebounding the ball and showed some offensive ability as well. 17 points and 14 boards for the conference's leader in rebounds. He and Erik Fromm (C) could not keep DePaul from scoring easy points at the rim, however. At one point, Brandon Miller benched Fromm in favor of Andrew Chrabascz (C+) in overtime. Chrabascz responded by allowing an easy Tommy Hamilton layup. The freshman forward did put up a good stat line (10 and 5), but Butler really needs someone to step up and provide consistent defense in the lane.
Elijah Brown (D+) forced a few threes early on and finished two of six. For reasons both on the court and off, he seems to be in Miller's doghouse and is really struggling to provide a consistent performance.
No way to spin this one for Butler fans, its the first bad loss of the year. And it comes at a tough time. Though both Georgetown and Creighton are missing key players, Butler will have a big challenge on its hands over the next several contests. The Bulldogs will need to figure out how to close out games or risk falling into the cellar of their new league.
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